Leonard Cohen
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?

'Music to slit your wrists by' is how I've often described Leonard Cohen's songs. But I have done so with a sense of grim affection.

Cohen sounds like a man who's been on a decade-long whisky-soaked bender and finally lifted himself through the fog, only to find that all his memories were just demon dreams sloshing through the labyrinth of his mind.

Hallelujah!

That song.

Arguably one of the most visceral songs ever written, the true meaning of Hallelujah is now irretrievably lost with Cohen's passing.

To some, it was a song born from the bowels of the Bible, conjured by Cohen and elevated by Jeff Buckley. To others, it's a paean to pain and frustration.

To me it's always been about the simplicity of loss... the inevitability of calamity, the spatial scraping of orbits distancing themselves through time.

There is a sense that the singer is watching his corporeal body from afar: Watching a man love and desire, knowing fully well that the end will be brutal, but unable to stop the emotional carnage.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

To give yourself completely to love and desire is to dabble with the devil herself, and Cohen's protagonist does more than dabble. He dives deep, occasionally breaking the surface in gasps of pleasure, only to be pulled under by the weight of life's fade. All the while Cohen's observer stands and watches, fettered, with a voice lashing at the chains.

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah has become the totem of the lost. The lighthouse guiding you towards the jagged rocks. And while we may joke about the dirge in Cohen's heart, there is also immense hope. A glittering realisation that even after all is lost, there is one last diamond in the rubble.

Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

In the end the lyrics may be right. Maybe all we're left with is a "cold and broken" carcass of what once used to be a human being.

In the cult British comedy, The Young Ones, Neil says, "No one ever listens to me. I might as well be a Leonard Cohen record." What Neil doesn't get is that you don't really listen to Cohen... you are him.

He leaves you with the feeling you get when you pass the love of your life on the street only to realise she's forgotten you ever existed. He's the seed you're choking on. The uncomfortable bed you've made and now sleep in. He's your reality.

And through those grated vocal chords he rasps the only word in music that will take you back to a place and time...

Hallelujah!

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